The cars we loved.
If you were old enough, you might remember a time when new Alfa Romeos were sold in the US. They were often remembered as being passionately engineered to be true driver’s cars. They weren’t the most reliable, but they were fun and sometimes practical. After WWII, Alfa Romero re-built its car business on the virtues of its small Giulietta line of cars (and all its variations) through the years. Later, a new generation of Americans came to discover Alfa thanks to the 1969 film “The Graduate”. The passion was still there, but quality, reliability and often resale value was not. By the mid 90’s it had become apparent that the American market was becoming a liability for Alfa Romero, so it pulled out.
Some Alfa aficionados might have looked back on that time from 1961 to 1995 as the good old days. The poor reliability aside, Alfa cars retained their reputation as being fun to drive and to look at. The rapid changes in the global automotive industry and the shifting alliances that followed led to repeated rumors of Alfa’s return to the US, but like a boy crying wolf, it would never materialize. In 2008, Alfa’s expensive C8 sports car was imported in limited numbers, giving the faithful hope, but it would be the buyout of Chrysler by Alfa’s parent company the Fiat Group that would really get the ball rolling for an Alfa return to the States. Instead of a new Alfa for the masses right away, America would get Italian genes in the form of a Dodge built on Alfa’s “Compact Wide” platform. Meanwhile, the rest of the world had a 147 (a compact sedan) replacement since 2010 called the Giulietta.
The Giulietta is Alfa’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf. Where the Golf if rather boxy and straight forward in its mission to be practical, the Giulietta is stylish in a car-from-a-music-video kind of way. The Giulietta is a five door sedan, but its profile suggests a three door like sportier versions of the Golf. The receding roofline says coupe as does the hidden rear door handles. The Giulietta’s hatchback offers the versatility and frames menacing looking LED tail lights.
The same sporty roof line robs rear seat passengers of some head space, but no one’s likely to complain because the Giulietta is the kind of car that has more presence than most “economy” compacts. The inside is a bit tamer than the exterior with understated brushed aluminum trim and plenty of leather in well optioned models. Speaking of models the Giulietta comes in multiple trims that use a tiny 1.4 to 1.7 liter four-cylinder engines. The bulk of Giulietta are sold with the 168 hp 1.4 with its high-efficiency and low C02 ratings. Even base cars are tuned for performance, but it’s the Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) versions with the 232 hp 1.7 that are the performance leaders. The larger engine uses turbo charging and direct injection.
Another technology called Multiair, aids performance by using electro hydraulic inlets and valve lift control. Multiair is perhaps the single most important technical development in the new Giulietta and will find its way in all the products that will use the compact platform in America. Other technologies like DNA, govern accelerator pedal travel, steering effort and stability control to act like a limited-slip differential. It’s not known if this feature will make it to the new 2013 Dodge Dart eventually.
The Giulietta has garnered cautiously positive reviews in Europe. Many reviewers noted that ride quality has improved due mostly to a new MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension. QV models with their lowered suspensions are said to ride harshly, but all models have benefited from benchmarking the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. It would appear initially that Alfa has address some long-standing quality control issues. It may be too early to tell, but initial projections suggest that the new Giulietta will have better reliability and resale value than the old 147. For the Dart, anything will be better than the Neon. To be fair, Neons sold well but were only slightly below average by most standards.
The Giulietta represents the opposite of the Golfs tectonic and Asia’s Transformer style approach to practicality with a bit of Italian flair. Alfa is coming, it will need more than looks to succeed in today’s tough American car market, a market where once dopey brands like Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai have made big quality gains.
When the Dodge Dart becomes available later in 2012, it may be a testing ground for the Giulietta in some respects. As far as we know the Dart will come only as a four door sedan built-in America, leaving the Giulietta wide open to exploit the growing American acceptance for small four door hatchbacks. The Mazda 3 might be the closest competitor, but the Alfa name still carries considerable weight in America. The Giulietta represents the best thinking at Alfa Romero currently, so settling for a slightly enlarged Dodge somehow does not seem that bad.